Azeria raises £32M to take breast cancer drug into humans

University of Cambridge
University of Cambridge (Jean-Christophe BENOIST/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 4.0)

Azeria Therapeutics has raised £32 million ($41 million) to take its estrogen receptor positive breast cancer program into the clinic. The money will fund work on small molecule inhibitors of FOXA1, a pioneer factor involved in tumor development.

Cambridge, U.K.-based Azeria emerged out of research Jason Carroll performed in the city. Carroll showed FOXA1 is essential to interactions between estrogen receptors and DNA. Removing FOXA1 from the equation stops the interactions and, by extension, prevents a process through which genes are switched on and cells grow. Notably, FOXA1 is needed for the growth of drug-resistant cells.

That work led to the foundation of Azeria, which got going with £5.5 million in series A funds from the CRT Pioneer Fund. With the research now reaching the point that clinical development is within sight, Azeria has brought a new investor on board to support the next stage of its evolution.

Syncona, following a playbook it has used with other British biotechs, has provided the vast majority of the money, stumping up £29.5 million. CRT Pioneer Fund returned for the series B to take Azeria’s total haul up to £32 million.

The willingness of Syncona to bet on Azeria reflects the progress the biotech made using the series A money. Azeria’s target validation and drug discovery work has convinced it, and Syncona, that FOXA1 is an attractive breast cancer target.

“Based on unique, proprietary scientific insight, with a world class academic founder and high-quality team, the company has an opportunity to develop and commercialize treatments which could make a significant difference for patients,” Syncona CEO Martin Murphy said in a statement.

While Carroll played an important role in the story of FOXA1, he is far from the only person to spot its therapeutic potential. A paper titled “FOXA1 as a therapeutic target for breast cancer” emerged in 2007 shortly after a pair of papers co-authored by Carroll about estrogen receptor binding.

More recently, the National Cancer Institute has funded Baylor College of Medicine research into the use of FOXA1 inhibitors to overcome endocrine resistance in breast cancer.